By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times
Along with its annual budget, the Seward County Commission recently passed the county’s capital improvement plan, and many projects will take place in the coming year through the money provided in that plan.
Some of those projects concern the Seward County Activity Center and the Law Enforcement Center. Administrator April Warden said some of that work is for air conditioning systems in the two buildings, which she said currently have the original systems.
“Obviously, you start having some maintenance issues with those, not to mention they’re not very efficient at that point,” she said. “We have put some money into the capital improvement plan for the replacement of those.”
Warden said the Activity Center is likewise in need of a new roof, and the Law Enforcement Center needs some work on the exterior of the building.
She described some other work that needs to be done in the Activity Center.
“The sound system that was in the Activity Center was original to the building,” she said. “When we have big events in there like Gas Compressor Institute, the sound system’s not functioning. That is a planned CIP item for next year as well.”
Warden said the costs for those projects all come out of the county’s building fund, and the other part of the CIP is the county equipment. She said those needs include replacement of equipment and vehicles.
“You will see in this budget that we have a vehicle replacement for maintenance,” she said. “We put that in there just in case there are no other options. When the sheriff’s office replaces his vehicles, a lot of times we disperse those vehicles to other departments in order to save money. We do think it’s a big possibility that the sheriff’s department will have a pickup that they can pass down to maintenance.”
Warden said for planning purposes, some expenditures are put in the budget, but are not always necessary.
“You’ll see things in here like copy machines, printers, but it’s not necessary to replace all those things,” she said.
Warden said an ambulance for the county’s EMS unit was purchased last year, and this year’s CIP has the lease payment the county will make.
She said some departments do not have requests for this year, and other items in the not-always-necessary category include those purchased for the county’s jailhouse.
“The jailhouse has things that they need like mattresses, food service carts, different things that we’re required to have that need to be replaced,” she said.
Warden said CIP is simply a tool the county uses for its department heads to be able to let her and the commission know what items are needed in those departments.
“They usually let us know the age of those items, what the approximate cost is and what their priority is,” she said. “Is it a must have right now? Is it something you foresee in the future? For planning purposes, we will put them in there in the event we have to replace it, but if we don’t have to replace it and it’s not a necessity, we won’t.”
Warden said if an item is budgeted for, but not purchased this year, it will carry over to next year’s CIP.
She added that in the past, the county has normally approved the CIP separate from its annual budget, after the amount of carryover is known, when department heads are invited to make requests for items.
In the last two years, however, Warden said she has asked department heads to have CIP budgets ready at budget time for discussion and consideration along with the annual budget.
“So we know we do have the budget and that we have planned for it,” she said. “I think it’s just a better system to do it at the same time.”
Warden said county building and county equipment are separate funds within the county budget.
“It’s included in the budget as a whole, but they are separate funds outside of our general fund,” she said. “That money can carry over from year to year. It’s not something that’s just rolled over into the general fund. We always do schedule a transfer out of the general fund into the county equipment fund to fund county equipment expenditures. There is a resolution in place where the commissioners put 1 mill, whatever the mill is worth for that particular year, they put that into county building for ongoing maintenance of our buildings.”
Warden said CIP is a large part of Seward County’s budget.
“In 2015, the proposed county building expenditures are $498,750,” she said. “The county equipment expenditures are at $358,384. That’s what we’ve budgeted. Everything might not be necessary. Just because we’ve budgeted $498,000 doesn’t mean we’re going to spend $498,000.”
This year’s CIP is somewhat comparable to last year’s, with county equipment expenditures being a little more and building expenditures a little less. Warden said the CIP budget will change from year to year just based upon the county’s needs.
As for Seward County’s employees, Warden said all employees were given a 50-cent-an-hour increase across the board in March. As for next year, that will not be known likely till 2015 itself.
“We have budgeted for it just like we did last year, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll get it,” she said. “They do put money aside each year in reserve for claims for pay increases or salary proposals, but depending upon how our year ends, how the revenues that we were expecting come in, what the expenditures were like, they look at what their carryover is with sales tax revenue where we plan for it to be.”
Warden said there are many things commissioners have to wait on before making a decision on employee pay raises.
“They’ll look at all that before they’ll grant any type of increase to the employees,” she said. “Obviously, valuation plays a key role in that. There’s a lot of factors that go into that, and it’s part of being a public servant.”
Seward County’s valuation was down for this year, and considering that, Warden said the county is fortunate for its current state of financial health.
“I feel the commissioners have planned very well,” she said. “I feel department heads and employees have really tried to keep costs down and do their part to keep it as low as possible. They know the importance of keeping the costs down. I think we try to be as efficient as we can be and responsible to the taxpayers, while still offering them the services that they’ve come to expect. I have to say I feel the county has done a good job at that, and I feel that we’re very financially sound.”
Warden said the county tries to be as transparent as possible with how it spends taxpayer money.
“Sometimes people forget, just because we’re an employee of the county, we’re taxpayers too,” she said. “I think it’s important for us to know what’s going on, and we know how important it is for the citizens to want to know what’s going on as well. I think we’re here to answer any questions they may have. A lot of times, it’s just simply not understanding, and hopefully, they know that they can come in. We’ll help them at any time to understand the process.”